Happy Holidays and Happy Burning

Dear Burners. Thank you for reading this blog. I started it in February last year, in the midst of BMOrg’s ticket lottery scandal. It seemed like the Burner community wasn’t being fed the truth, and so we wrote about that. And time proved us to be right – to the displeasure of some at BMOrg.

When I go to Burning Man, I stay in an RV. It’s a cheap one I bought off eBay, because the Playa is hard on equipment. I’ve been to Burning Man in larger RVs. I’ve stayed in camps with meal plans, I’ve paid people with tickets and accommodation to drive me in and out of Burning Man. Usually, I’ve driven myself, but let me put it this way: I don’t stay in a tent.

I realized that some of the opinions I was expressing here, were maybe not reflective of the whole Burning Man community. So what – it’s my blog, I have First Amendment rights like Burning Man keeps suing for…I should be allowed to express my opinion. But as this blog became more popular, I started to wonder if I was unduly influencing the crowd with my own personal, biased, opinions – that were not reflective of the majority.

cartoon-santa-hatSo I invited another writer to come and contribute to this blog – Whatsblem The Pro. He had a large community discussing Burning Man on the Internet, an event (like Black Rock City, LLC’s hostile takeover of the Cacophony society-spawned event) that is shrouded in the fog of war and mists of history. To me, he was someone who comes from the other end of the spectrum of Burners: he is not flying family members to the Burn in private planes, he is not spending thousands to support different art cars, he is slogging away unpaid to make Burning Man art installations that we all get to share in.

Maybe I did the wrong thing. Maybe I invited the wrong author. If there are other voices in the Burning Man community who want to be heard, please speak up – there’s no time like the present! I hope everyone can understand that I invited another voice in, to present another perspective, NOT because I agree with that perspective.

I feel that it has been interesting and useful, over the last year or so, to have a couple of different voices and viewpoints about Burner culture, and the question of if BMOrg (or it’s new, still undefined, successor) is the best steward of our culture going forward… for centuries. Maybe I’m wrong, I know we’ve created some controversial opinions here. Despite what some think, we don’t exist just to bash BMOrg at every turn. We bash them when they fuck up – don’t blame the messenger!

I would like to thank Whatsblem for everything that he has brought to this blog. But, the time has come to clear confusion, and CLEARLY part ways. Burners.Me is now large enough in audience, that people are starting to get quite concerned about things that are written here. Recently, as editor I have had to step in and tone a few things down – just for the sake of reasonable civil discourse. Life is too short, and this is a frikking hobby to me. I want the opinions expressed on my blog, to be opinions I agree with, or even if I disagree, whoever is stating their viewpoint has to provide at least some evidence to back their accusations up.

toucan raver

Image: SeaStar

Lately I have sensed some confusion about “who is behind Burners.Me”. Even Whatsblem has been telling me, “everyone thinks I run this blog”. He is in Reno, and I can’t speak to what people in Reno think and say. Let me clear this up: it’s me, BurnersXXX, aka Zos. You can email me at zos@zos.org . I started this blog and I have NOTHING to do with Burning Man. We are NOT pretending to be part of Burning Man in any way, I have strived to make this clear from the start. I am sharing my opinions, you don’t have to agree, you can come and share your own, please do!

animals-piranha-fish-goldfish-fish_food-shooting_yourself_in_the_foot-mmon339lIf you wonder why I am not “less” anonymous, it is purely due to my real world life. Those within the bubble of Burning Man see it as unequivocally amazing. Those in the real world, the non-Burners, will understand that for many “Burning Man” is a curse word, not a blessing. “Burning Man”‘s culture has become totally commodified under BMOrg’s stewardship, and it’s a global brand name…and yet, despite their unprecedented (for a rave) media blitz, the rest of the world has NO CLUE about the 10 Principles, and thinks ONLY “drug/sex/orgy” about this party “Festival of Freedom”. Any Burner has had to deal with expressing this disconnect between Defaultia and Our Home.

Thank you all for staying with me this far. I hope I can continue to provide you some entertainment and information in the future: if you keep reading, I promise you the tone will be different. I know there are many readers here who are with Whatsblems “Steal This Movie” view of the world, over my “let rich people come and bring people who get paid to be part of their crew” view. Am I wrong, and others right? No, obviously…why the fuck would I bother to write this, other than I believe in what I am saying?

Since the beginning of my writings here, I have tried to present a balanced perspective, despite what the naysayers have to (nay)say, backed up with facts and links and references. I might not be neutral, but I’m no spammer or slanderer. It’s a shame I even have to state that, but BMOrg pretends to be a lot of things they’re not, and they employ gang-stalking tactics like “shunning” and info-wars tactics like “trolls and shills” to enforce their role in our lives. In the end, this is a dictatorship run in secrecy, with lies under their belt. Burners under The Man have less rights than US Citizens under the Constitution.

stock-vector-burning-headless-halloween-man-cartoon-90347905I encourage everyone else in the Burner community who have opinions and insider knowledge to come and share with us. We welcome it, just as we welcome Whatsblem the Pro to continue participating in this discussion with his perspective too. In particular I would like to thank Pico, A Balanced Perspective, Nomad, Bob from BMIR, Matt (or was it Mark) with the inside rave story, and everyone else who has taken the time to give us detailed comments that added to our collective conversation. I started this blog to express my opinions, but my own opinions have definitely changed over time, based on some of the well-made arguments I’ve read here.

What will my blog Burners.Me look like in the future? Who knows, I may never post again! If I do, it will be less of the snark you may have seen in the past, and more about the positive thinking and ideas for the future. I don’t believe 100% in science, since there are more than a few things that science can’t explain or prove…and I don’t believe that Burning Man is scientific. Disprove me if you can! I do believe 100% in magic, it has always worked for me, even when science has let me down. I believe that Burning Man is magic.

I’m going home to renew my US visa. Hopefully you guys will let me back in! Wish me luck please, fellow Burners. If not, I’ll still be writing this blog. More than 25% of Burners are not from the US, this is a global phenomenon now. This post is literally my last act in the United States, possibly forever.

Burn on Burners, happy holidays, happy Hannukah, merry Christmas, happy new year! See you on the flip side.

Gift Me Your Project!

Before Burning Man starts telling Burners how to raise funds, they should clean their own act up internally.

Burning Man’s transition to a non-profit has sure been raising some eyebrows at Burners.Me HQ. The latest we hear, from Burning Man’s Social Alchemist Bear Kittay, is that the Burning Man Project is going to be the new, non-profit entity that encapsulates all of our values. We donate our money to it, and it owns the rights to all the content we provide to it.

1990 burning manThe party in the Black Rock desert, known as Burning Man, will continue – as a subsidiary division of the project. Right now, according to what we can piece together of Burning Man’s “almost transparent” finances, this event costs $8 million a year to put on, and brings in about $24 million in revenues. So, it should be contributing $16 million a year in tax-free donations to it’s new parent company.

Then, we have Black Rock City, LLC. Aka the BMOrg. This is currently the company with an exclusive monopoly to monetize our culture. Right now that comes mostly from photo agreements for their desert event. Presumably, in the future, the division of “The Project” that is getting the royalties from movies, albums, calendars etc will be a separate operating entity from the division that puts that one party on. In this structure the non-profit parent company would  own and monetize the Intellectual Property, not the party. The legal threats and lawsuits would be initiated by the non-profit company, not the party.

So, let’s think positive and believe BMOrg and their statements. This is being done for “us”, to preserve our culture into the future. Now that it’s going to be a non-profit, spreading Burner culture to the world, we can all participate by donating, we don’t have to even go to the party any more to save the world. Yes, we will be the new owners of our culture, through the non-profit Burning Man is planning to create for us “soon”, and our appointed representatives the 17-person Board of Directors (some of whom are married to each other, which good corporate governance suggests is a potential conflict of interest).

BMOrg’s financial statements say that the corporation itself costs $2.7 million a year to run; the “overlap”, the expenses that possibly relate to the party but also occur year round, are $10.6 million. And the non-party expenses, the “Outreach” that is going to bring Burning Man to the world, are only $264,000 – about 1% of the money they take in.

From what we know, Black Rock City LLC has about 50 full-time employees, splitting salaries of $8.6 million and eating $1.3 million of food every year (we believe most of this food is for volunteers at the event). They’ve just moved from multiple floors of an office building close to City Hall, to a new building in the hipster-friendly Mission district.

What that means, is that this organization costs $13.3 million to operate: a pretty freaking big overhead for a charity that’s raising $16 million a year. In fact, at 83 cents of every dollar being spent on overhead, that would be a new record for BMOrg. It even beats the atrocious performance of the Black Rock Arts Foundation, which despite all the millions of dollars of overhead costs that get billed to the party or the BMOrg, managed to spend 73 cents out of every dollar it raised on overheads, passing a mere 27% on to artists. Here’s the SF Chronicle writing about it:

 A combination of record ticket sales and a more efficient business helped create what [Larry Harvey] called “the nest egg we needed.” The profit, he said, will go back into the company.

Some of it will also go to the festival’s nonprofit arm, the Black Rock Arts Foundation. The charitable organization, which was founded in 2001 after Harvey loaned it $30,000 in cash according to tax documents, is dedicated to providing grants to artists who “promote and support community-based interactive art.”

But in an analysis of the organization’s tax filings by Charity Navigator, a New Jersey-based nonprofit watchdog group, the Black Rock Arts Foundation earned an “exceptionally poor” rating. The analyst found errors in reporting, a low revenue-to-grant ratio that showed artists receive on average 27 cents for every $1 spent – less than half the industry standard – and a conflict of interest involving David Best, a local artist best known for his intricate temples that rise at Burning Man.

Sandra Miniutti, an analyst at Charity Navigator who reviewed the filings at the request of The Chronicle, said donors to the foundation should be concerned by its poor practices.

“This is not a financially healthy organization,” Miniutti said. “If I were a donor, I’d think long and hard before I sent money their way.”

It seems somewhat unusual to create a new charity, and then “loan it” money. Why not donate? Was there interest involved? Does the charity still have this, or other outstanding liabilities to insiders? What sort of loans have gone between the existing organizations and the new charity? As a donor to a number of charities, these are all things that would cause me concern. We do not yet have any clarity on how the relationship between The Project and The Event will be managed in this new structure; the last interview of note was Scribe’s in the Chronicle earlier this year, which made it seem like even the founders weren’t sure. When in doubt, get it out! Since profit is no longer the motive behind Burning Man, will we finally get financial transparency?

Looking forward into the future, how big does this overlap have to be? Surely, some of the expenses that go on during the year, are needed for the party? Well, maybe so. And some, maybe not. I question, if the expense is really needed for the party, then why not account for it with the other party expenses?

I’m speculating here, so if anyone has more concrete information about the new operating plan and org structure, please share. I like charities that use most of the money they raise for the causes they support. A new, lean, focused organization, taking $16 million a year in profits from the annual spectacle Burners create for them, and using that to spread Burner culture and values could be a real positive force for the world. Just another charity, that takes our donations as “Gifts” and then spends the money  on fancy offices, travel, and entertainment for its workers – well, the world has enough of those already.